Thursday, April 14, 2011

Andrew's Dresden

Andrew had a special assignment for school.  It was MEANT to be a three week school project, but he came home last weekend and told me he had a Power Point presentation due on Dresden that Monday.  He wrote the essay and we added the photos the morning of my birthday.  (Which might sound really lame, but for all who know me, was actually not a bad birthday gift for me!)

With ANZAC day coming up here - and inspired by Lindsey's piece on peace (!!!) - I just wanted to show what homeschooling can do.  Although we learned a lot about Dresden as part of a homeschooling project, Andrew's essay shows me that just talking about things informally at home, exposing kids to complicated ideas and encouraging to think about them, goes a long way.

It also shows that they ARE listening more than you think they are. 

And that it is never too early to start teaching kids about peace!

I feel really lucky that Andrew's teacher is carrying on the same lessons at school that I teach at home.  (And yes, Andrew wrote those last few pages himself.  I was actually trying to get him to tone it down or even delete some of it but then realized that was crossing the line from editing to censorship.  Hmmm....might be Andrew has the same preachy style as his mother!  But then again he is only nine!) 

Some photos have been omitted in the interests of time.  It's Andrews WORDS that I am so proud of!

By Andrew Connor

My Opa was born in the nearby town of Rathen two weeks after Dresden was bombed. 
(This is us visiting Rathen.)

His Mum, my Ur-Oma, saw only dust and fire.  Dresden was bombed by the Americans and British because they were fighting the Nazis who ruled Germany at that time.  The Nazis were the bad guys.
(This is me in front of the Golden Horseman, a statue of August the Strong.  He was the Kaiser of Dresden in the 1700s)

Before the bombing Dresden was as pretty as today.  It has a famous Opera house.   It has paintings by famous painters like Rafael.  Martin Luther even studied there!  (This is me near a statue of the great Martin Luther.)

A lot of the buildings are fixed.  Some are the same as before and some not.  Good paintings burned and are redone.  This is the Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady.  It was completely destroyed by the bombs.  Today it has been rebuilt.  It is a symbol of hope.  A piece of the old church has been kept standing to remind people of the bombings.  Ryan and Matthew stand in front of it.  (Photo omitted.)

Of course many people died.  Some also survived.  The survivors had even more pain than the already dead people of the bombed city of Dresden.

Dresden shows us all how terrible war is.  How much pain it can cause, how deadly it is and how not fun it is.  (This is the Elbe River that my Opa played and swam in as a little boy.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Recycling Prep-School Style

Maybe its my fault the boys like recycling so much.
One thing Germany does well is recycling. 

Altdorf itself was actually too anal about it.  Damon and I called the women at the recycling place the 'Recyling Nazis',  something noone else seemed to find funny, despite the fact they were so totally 'over it.'  It might have been that they just didn't see anything wrong with two women running over to you to inspect whether or not you have sorted your clear plastic from your colored plastic from the little bags the soup come in properly.  And made you do it again if you hadn't.

Then my friend Karen told me they recombined some of the recycling again because they needed some of it to fuel an incinerator or something.

Damon and I went to Boeblingen, run by some really nice eastern European men who not only helped you out with a bit more respect than the Recycling Nazis but also hung out and chatted with us a bit afterwards. 

We were judged pretty severely by neighbors for putting our trash out every other week.  Noone seemed to understand that TWO kids in diapers filled that bin up pretty quickly.

But once we got Aidan and Matthew out of diapers we too were able to go six weeks without pick-up.  The recycling, which we had to take to the center ourself, was a weekly affair.

The thing is, they've got it backwards here.  (And in the USA too from what I understand.)  The trash is picked up weekly but the recycling only bi-weekly.  Here and in the USA you are pretty proud of yourself for recycling soda cans, newspapers, tin cans and plastic bottles.  That, folks, is not even the tip of the recycling iceberg.  If you read what is written on the container, you can pretty much recycle EVERYTHING except for some really dirty fish papers.  And diapers.

We've had to put out recycling in the trash this week because we just had too much.

And here, they make it easy for you.  No sorting.  Just dump it in the bin.  AND they pick it up for you.  In Europe, you have these awful bins in your house to sort the plastic from the paper from the cork from the tin from is such a pain that I stopped recycling the things we only had a little of and threw it in the trash for convenience.

Honestly, Leute, at some point you have got to make it easier for people with large families to do some of this stuff because people right now seem to be so busy sorting and cleaning and doing everything perfectly, by the book, that noone has the time for more than one or two kids.
Aidan and his favorite toy - an empty box.

Of course, Lawnton parents seem to have their own form of recycling.  Most of the teachers at school ask for cardboard boxes and rolls of toilet paper to use for art projects.  Ms. Dance, Aidan and Matthew's Prep teacher goes a step further (as always!) and asks for ribbons and old greeting cards and basically anything the kids might find interesting in creating something new.

Aidan and Matthew started coming home with some really really horrendous - by which I mean fantastically creative - art work a few weeks ago.  For my boys, bigger means better.  So that we have strips of wallpaper glued to huge sheets of construction paper.  And bits of lace glued to egg cartons.  These are all carried home proudly and then used as additions to the Lego and Playmobil creations in the playroom. 

It progressed.  The artwork got bigger and uglier.  Excuse me, I mean more and more creative and original.  I was hunting through their room while they were at school, trying to sort the garbage - excuse me again, I mean ARTWORK - they wouldn't notice was gone from the stuff they were sure to miss.  And believe me, it's hard to tell which egg carton they would notice was missing.

My boys LOVE the recycling bin at school.  They come home with jewelry boxes and fancy gift boxes with snazzy clasps in intricate, velvety liners.  I know better than to throw these away.

The thing is they are just spending time sorting through the bin for goodies now.  They don't NEED to MAKE anything out of it.  They just need to bring it home.  HOW GREAT IS THIS?  IT'S LIKE CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY!

At least we know we don't have to go all out for their birthday presents anymore!  How about a roll of old string?  Or some old carpeting maybe?

This week Aidan brought home about 30 old Christmas cards.  Ms Dance said he had spent a LOT of time and energy hunting them out of the bin.  He was very very intent and excited.  Great.  Now that I've finally managed to deal with my own hoarding tendencies - I save only the best and put the rest in the bin - I've got Aidan bringing home SOMEONE ELSE'S memories.  These will be easier for me to recycle.  Except for the fact that he is counting them daily and making sure I don't take them from him!

Matthew brings home fancy shopping bags and carries them around like purses.  Oh sorry, I believe we are supposed to call them 'man bags' now.  Shades of the whole Teletubbies fiasco of a few years ago.  To be honest, I'm not so worried about him carrying a purse as I am about the fact that he brings home a new one every day now.

What really made me decide I needed to have a talk with Ms Dance though was when I walked into the Prep class yesterday to pick up the boys and saw Aidan strutting towards me carrying a box that was bigger than he was.  That's it.  A box.  A crock-pot box.  He was as excited as I would have been if there had actually been a crock-pot IN it!  Look Mom, of ALL the kids in class, I GET TO CARRY HOME THIS HUGE EMPTY BOX!

Until he opened it up at home and I found some more Christmas cards and strips of wallpaper inside.

Oh yay.

I've got a vacuum cleaner box I'd like to give to the child of the person who gave us the crock-pot box.   But, with my luck, my kids will just bring it home again anyway.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We did WHAT?!!!

Budding celebrities.
We have floor seats to a Miley Cyrus concert!

We have FLOOR seats!

To a MILEY CYRUS concert?!

Damon and I just spent a frantic fifteen minutes repeat dialling the box office AND booking online.

I can't remember the last time I was that stressed.  And remember, I just made a transcontinental move with four children.  (Oh yeah, I DO remember now.  It was the last day we moved out of our apartment in Altdorf.  The landlord wouldn't show up to take the keys so that he wouldn't have to give us back our 3000 Euro deposit.  I was going to have to euthanize the dog.  Everything was in the driveway while we figured out how to get it all into the car.  And it was raining.  Thanks to Dominique and Lori for being brave enough to share in that joy with me.  And to Lynn, for calling at JUST the right time to prevent a major blow-out.)

I will NEVER do that again.  This is much better.

Of course, I DO have to go to a Miley Cyrus concert.

But it DOES beat euthanizing the dog.  (THERE'S a review she'll want to paste on her wall!)

I like to think that Damon and I didn't spend all that energy - and money - on a Miley Cyrus concert.  We spent it on our kids.  (I'll be going with Ryan and Andrew.  We bribed Aidan and Matthew with a trip to Hungry Jack's, aka Burger King, instead.  Five year olds are cheap and easy!)

I also think that when Justin Bieber comes to town, it will Damon's turn to go with them.  (Baby, baby, oh.....I won THAT one!)

Monday, April 11, 2011

What is it about the phone and kids?!

We decided to bring them with us from Germany.  They ARE generally good kids, albeit a bit goofy!
 Aunt Merle called on Saturday night to wish me a Happy Birthday.  She is Damon's Nana's cousin and our closest relative here, both in terms of blood lineage and in terms of living close to Rock Hampton, about an hour and a half north of here.

I really like to give her my undivided attention.

It was 6:45 PM and the kids were still up.  Damon was at work. 

Within five minutes of being on the phone Matthew was soaked from head to foot in apple juice.   As I tried to cover up his shrieks of outrage and continue the conversation with Merle, I somehow made out from frantic whispered communication from Andrew than Aidan had intentionally thrown his entire cup of apple juice into Matthew's face.

I tried to drag Aidan up the stairs to his room for a time-out, but he knew I wasn't going to be able to do it without getting off the phone with Merle.

"WHY WOULD HE DO THAT?!"  I mouthed instead.

There followed some other urgent communication that I pretended to listen to but ignored as I continued to speak to Merle.

Matthew gave up crying and went upstairs to change.

I figured I could deal with the situation later.

Until Andrew, red in the face, started frantically whispering at me again.  Something about Ryan and hitting and...  Ryan joined in with serious accusations of swearing and use of the middle finger.

My kids?  MY KIDS?!  (Really, they generally don't do this.)


I coralled Andrew, crying with the injustice of it all, in the kitchen.  Still speaking to Merle, who was telling me about her daughter and their lovely three children she was hoping we could meet over the Easter holidays.  (And I'm thinking, I don't know, I think my kids have been infected with the crazy flu and might be contagious.) 

To be fair, Ryan WAS mopping up the spilled - or thrown - apple juice off the sofa.  And floor.  And sideboards.  They ARE generally good kids.

I forget why I finally gave up.  I think maybe Aidan and Matthew started beating eachother.  In any case,  I admitted to Merle that WWIII had been going on the whole time I was speaking to her and that it was time for intervention.

Not one child argued when I sent them up to bed.  At 7PM on a Saturday.

I'm still not sure WHAT the heck happened in those few minutes.  How four quiet, well-behaved and contented children turned into seething angry monsters the moment I got on the phone. 

They were best friends again by the time I went upstairs to check on them.

Making me grateful that the crazy bug is a short-lived bug after all.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Oh dear. I am missing my friends.

Andrew, Sarah and Ryan.  Since Anita wouldn't want me to show the picture I have of HER in a bathing suit!  (Good one though, with Maria!)
A great positive of living as an English-speaker in Germany was that I was forced to meet and interact and even befriend people I never would have befriended in an English-speaking country.

I was thrown in with other moms raising their children bilingually that I would have politely waved at and moved past under other circumstances.

Take Anita, for instance.  Except for the fact that she was so nice and friendly right from the beginning - it's a South Africa thing! - she was WAY WAY too classy and lady-like for someone as crass and loud as me to approach.  She's like a sister now.

And Sue.  Also way too proper and well-dressed for a slob like me to approach.  She was the first person I phoned after my miscarriage and also the one who gave me pointers on how to make it LOOK easier - and classier - than it really is!  All in the attitude, ladies, all in the attitude! 

Lori and I were soul-mates from the start.  But if I had met her in highschool - where I was busy being super anti-establishment and she was a good girl - oh heck, Lori and I would have been friends anywhere, anytime! 

It was so nice to have someone exactly like me only a few blocks down the road for a while.  Also running down the road in shorts and a tank top after her two wild boys while the German moms strolled leisurely in pressed jeans.  Such a shame Kristy is a world away by now.

But I would have been scared to approach Babette too.  And Maria, wow Maria is just really WAY WAY to good a person and a mother for someone as conflicted and scatter-brained as I am.  I am so lucky she sees past that to the good intentions inside.

It hurts that it took AGES for me to connect to Liesel - because once we did she became another sister alongside Anita.

When I met Lynn, on the other hand, I knew she was a soul-mate from the start.  But I thought I had time to take it slow.  At least we had a few great months before I moved.

I am missing everyone - this is just the tip of the Mommy Group - because I am missing a close friend here.  It's been WAY TOO EASY to find friends here.  And not just Mommies, but husbands and families as well.  We click here.  And the rest takes care of itself.

The Raibles. (Two of the anyway, Philipp and Sophia.)  Family forever.

G. has been - IS, damn it, IS - one of my closest friends here since I met her at school in early February.  Lively and open, friendly and - hey, SOUTH AFRICAN - I KNEW IMMEDIATELY that this was someone I was going to be totally comfortable with.  Oh dear, this sounds like a love letter.  By week two our families had a barbeque together and since then we have met at least 2 or 3 other times to barbeque at the lake. 

Which is really quite a lot considering G. has been in the hospital the last two weeks suffering from a brain anuerysm.

All I want to do is rush to the hospital and sit by her side.  THIS IS G., for crying out loud, I HAVE TO BE THERE FOR HER.

Except that, for now, we'd only be in the way.  We are NEW friends.  Her husband HAS a support network and is dealing with enough coordinating relatives from New Zealand and South Africa.  "Helping" P. and G. means giving them their space and time to heal.  "Helping" in any other way would be for OUR benefit, not for theirs.

It sucks. 

I've been trying hard not to be overmelodramatic, because let's face it, life is WAY harder for them right now than for me, but ...well...G. probably doesn't even remember me.  And, while I realize this is the LEAST of her concerns - she is suffering from short-term memory loss and doesn't even remember that she HAS an aneurysm when she wakes up - I feel like I have already lost my best friend.

Andrew's first ever best friend, Joe. 

Her first time meeting me will not be the first time I met her.  Maybe we'll have another instant connection.  And all those long talks.  More likely, it will be awkward.  She'll be meeting a stranger.  I'll be meeting someone I already care about.  Maybe her situation - the complications, the long stay in the hospital, the months recovering with family here from South Africa - will make us meeting again an impossibility.  What am I going to do, walk up to her house while she is recovering and tell her she's my best friend?  Yeah, that'll be good. 

I'm terrified I will scare her off the minute I meet her again.  And that she won't take the chance to get to know me again.

Or can an instant connection happen twice?

I take comfort from Anita and Liesel who emailed me today.  And Sabina.  And Lindsey and Jim and Caroline and Claire.  All of who put up with long periods of internet silence - because it hurts guys, because it hurts - and then immediately jump straight back into my heart without a second thought about it.

I have to believe that true 'kindred spirits', to borrow from Anne of Green Gables, will connect no matter what, again and again and again.  There are friends who I cherish who were friends at a specific time and for a specific purpose.  But there are some who will remain friends forever, through time and space, even over oceans and continents.

Sarah holds court with Matthew, Hannan, Mia and Aidan.

Oh dear.  If I'm not going to rant and rave about the German education system, it appears I have to get 'kitschig' and sentimental.

Then again, if you're reading this, you're probably one of the ones who puts up with me for the goodness underneath.  Thanks for that.  I miss you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Uh yeah. Today I was going to work on THE NOVEL. I have taken great liberty in calling it that since, so far, it is about ten pages of character development with some theme and no plot.

But I feel it.

Then I dutifully checked emails to keep up with my volunteer stuff at school.

And received an email from Sabina, who - as another German-American and a mother of three who has done the transatlantic move a few times - totally validated me and made me feel better about myself and my ranting and raving. Nice to know I am not offending EVERYONE!

I had another email from Lindsey - who is my push and inspiration to write - and who seems to be spear-heading support (for her writing, which is fantastic, and therefore encourages me to do MY bit!) over the Internet. (Do English-speakers capitalized that, because it feels wrong NOT to!)

Of course that connected me to the REST of The Writers and I spent the next two hourse catching up on what THEY have been doing.

Uh yeah. I am surrounded by genius.

Here I am ranting and raving - throwing it into everyone's face - moralizing and overexplaining myself.

And Jim does it with a photo essay and a few well-chosen words. 

Check it out. He says - and shows - it better - than I am able to at the moment.

I have NOT asked Jim for permission to post this link - Jim, is it okay, because I will take it off if it is not - and I certainly don't know his reasons for posting this.

But, since I am personally having trouble writing ANYTHING at all about Japan, well.....isn't it nice when someone can show pictures of Stuttgart, that have NOTHING to do with Japan, and still express what I have been unable to say in words for weeks now?

So much nicer than banging you over the head with it.I may have it all wrong. But Jim's photos - and words - are always worth a look.

Maybe I should just stick to hanging out the laundry!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Aussie B'days - Strange New World

We've celebrated childrens' birthdays in four countries by now and there are certain comparisons to be made.

The cake is a hit worldwide.

I don't think anyone will argue that birthday parties have gotten out of hand in countries like the USA where parents are expected to invite the entire class of 25 to 30 kids, have a themed party with clowns and jumping castle, or take the kids hot-air ballooning, anything to beat LAST year's party and keep up with the other 25- 30 parties your kid has been invited to attend.

When we were in Geneva, my best friend's daughter attended an exclusive international private school - as only Geneva can do - and not only were parents expected to fork out 40 to 50 dollars in a gift for the birthday child but often also had to invest in an elaborate princess costume or other themed outfit for the party.

I used to wonder how children like this would ever face up to reality but then realized that children growing up in such bubbles of privilege seldom ever have to.  With such wealth, the American expats - usually seen as figures of privilege in other countries - were having a hard time explaining to their kids why they couldn't have the 300 dollar jeans their classmates - European royalty and Arab oil money - were wearing.

But Aussies don't need fancy table settings.

So that practical Germany was really a relief.  Our only surprise came when - at Ryan's 5th birthday party - the girls we'd invited demanded to know the schedule of events I had planned for them.  Schedule of events?  Yes, and an art project being apparently obligatory as well.  In France we'd just fed everyone cake and mums had chatted while the kids played.  In Germany - and to be fair, the kids were getting older - kids expected choreographed entertainment. 

I managed to come up with some Christmas cookies and candy in the kitchen and led the kids in making little gingerbread houses out of crysallized sugar and M and Ms.  And, having grown up in Germany myself, I had no problem getting out the blindfold, wooden spoon and kitchen pot and having the kids bach around our living room blindfolded hunting for treats.

Once the twins were born, things got ugly.  How were we going to watch two infants and still amuse 8 older children in a small apartment?

We had to get creative, ask friends for help, and spend a little more money to take the kids out somewhere.  Ryan pushed her party back to June a couple of times to allow us to take a FEW best friends horseback riding and to the pool.  Another time we paid for a trip to a camel farm.  A little more money, and I had to find a friend to help drive, but it was worth it to have the kids amused by someone else while Damon stayed home and watched the two babies.

Uh.  Guys.  That was SUPPOSED to be a BASEBALL tee.

Andrew's bday - April 1 - allowed us to invite the dozens of friends whose bdays HE'D been invited to to a barbeque.  In retrospect we should have had people drop their kids off at the park, but part of the agreement in Germany seems to be that you take the kids off their parents hands so that they have the afternoon free for your child's bday - so one year we made my parents help drive while they were visiting.  Desperate measures, my friends.  (The first year after the twins were born we begged a few close friends to come and man the fire while I chased after the 9 month olds.  It was fun.  But most adults begged off ever doing it again.  Bday parties are NOT fun in Germany.  They are obligations.  You are obligated to entertain THEIR kids on YOUR kid's bday and they promise to take yours off your hands in return.)

Last year we took everyone on a train to a bowling center.  A nightmare, but Andrew wanted something other than a barbeque for once.

The twins were young and we were able to do a thing at the pool with family friends.  Last year, since they had started kindergarten, we had to jump in and invite kindi friends.  We had a nice group of about 5 kids who played together, whose parents we got along with and it was actually a nice season - a bunch of bday parties in June and July, a group of moms hanging around and helping out and a generally good time eating cake while the kids played.

By then I'd also learned that you CAN do your own thing and get away with it.  One friend had about four different kinds of fantastic, home-made German cakes for all the adults.  Right away, I let everyone know they would be having my standard vanilla cake only.  Another friend did have a huge Disney theme complete with monogrammed T-shirts my boys still wear today.  She was upset when the kids wouldn't stop playing in the bedroom to come and properly eat cake and drink tea.   Formalities must be observed.  (I, on the other hand, am just thrilled when the kids amuse themselves and leave well enough alone!)

It was a nice group of people.  The boys WANTED to have THEIR party IN our apartment, mostly IN their playroom so they could have all of their best friends in their room playing with their toys at the same time.  I would have preferred a park but it was their party.  We opened gifts, had cake and - prearranged with this group by now - fed everyone some quick chicken fingers for dinner so that noone had to worry about it that evening.

One mom left in a huff because HER idea had been for us to take the kids bike-riding at the track near our home and couldn't understand that Matthew and Aidan wanted THEIR party inside.  But that was her choice - it was about HER child - and the rest of us continued with chicken fingers and mini pizzas.

Just to let folks know that there are MELLOW and HELPFUL and genuinely kind and caring people in Germany.  This was a NICE group of mums I really regretted leaving.  (I should mention the previous parties for the twins with their German godmother and her four kids - thats enough - and the pool and bowling parties with Anita, Maria, Lori, Kristy- English speakers all who just wanted to help me celebrate the milestones with the twins and came to support and be there for me, not to judge.  Thanks guys.  I miss you all.)

BMX mean green machine.  Thanks grandparents.

The other thing I liked about Germany was the PRACTICALITY of it all.  No nonsense, the hassle eliminated from gift-giving.  You asked people what their child might like and, expecting at first a vague idea of likes and dislikes - got a detailed list of what YOU were down for.  As in  "Heidi  is picking up the soccer ball and will share that gift with Julian and Luka.  You are down for the educational boardgame but Jan's mom will get that and you will owe her 8.74."

What was nice that - since I could often not be relied upon to get the required item, opting in my American-like way for something I was able to find in the first store I went to rather than hunt down the other thing all over town - I often only had to fork over some cash to another, more dependable mom.

I downright refused to buy the pencil case or the travel cosmetic bag one mom asked for.  Nice lady but way too practical for my taste.  ( I still remember having to explain to an American mom that the gift her child had received - a set of mongrammed bath towels - was NOT a lame, rude and lazy gift but something I happened to know the German mother had been very excited to spend the time to go and personally order.)

The problem came when it was MY turn to crank out a gift list.  The stress of planning THAT sucked.

Uh.  Not EXACTLY what I asked for.

The other thought that DID pop into my head - and pops in often now - is that this planned and strategized gift-giving rather took the joy and the well, GIFT-GIVING, out of gift-giving.  I am having SUCH a blast just going into the stores here and picking out something I know MY boys would enjoy - some Legos, or some cars or something small, plastic and completely UNPRACTICAL.  I AM German, so it will never be junk, but what fun just to go and pick out a GIFT, rather than a pre-ordained requirement that might not meet expectations and then have to be returned.

My most German gift here so far was a gardening set for a self-professed gardener in Ryan's class.  But I think she liked it.  And it was SO MUCH FUN to shop around for something I WANTED TO GIVE rather than something I had been told to purchase.

Gifts aren't even considered obligatory here. 

Mums stayed to hang out WILLINGLY at Andrew's party.  DADS TOO!

And the kids had fun amusing themselves.

THERE IT IS!  (A cricket bat, for all you Americans.)

There is a down side.  Bday parties seem to be a FAMILY thing - a barbeque at the park with family and just a few classmates.  The upside is that the pressure to entertain the kids is off.  The adults barbeque and enjoy being together and the kids run around and do the same.  Mixed ages, mixed sexes, everyone just enjoying the day and being together.  EASY!

Our problem is that we HAVE no family here and MY KIDS want to invite their friends.  It is what they are used to: their day, their friends.  So that Andrew was very disappointed when the majority of the kids he invited didn't RSVP (NOT an Aussie thing at all to RSVP!  Funny enough, wasn't a French thing either!)  and didn't show.  (We'd had the same problem with Ryan's bday in January  - 2 out of 8 responses.)

All in expectations.  We DO have close friends already and some of them have five kids alone - so that whipping up a gathering will be no problem now that we know how it is done.

A relief really, to give up the expectations and the stress of entertaining everyone else's kids just to show your kid that they are special.  Instead, we can enjoy a traditional barbeque with close family friends and show the kids that they matter by spending time together as a family.

We also won't feel obligated to invite the dozens of kids who have invited ours.

Odd Aussie concept that - no themed costumes and intricate art projects, no expectations and obligations.

Give up the annual kids birthday party?!  HOW CRAZY IS THAT?!  But how will they know we love them?  How will we prove they are as good as everyone else?  How will we repay the people who have had us to theirs?

It's like giving up the annual Christmas cards to relatives on your husband's side who have never liked you to begin with.



It's a strange, new world.  (And no, you don't have to wear a costume or bring a gift to enter it!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

One Road Rule to Live By

Baseball (T-ball) T, cricket bat and whiffle ball.  Matthew makes up his own rules.
I keep going on about the great Australian spirit; the friendliness, the thinking of others, the general 'joie-de-vivre' that makes everyday life that much less stressful and more fun.

I can illustrate in no better way than in traffic.

They might have road rage in Sydney, I don't know, but I certainly haven't seen anything but patience and good humor out our way.

Take it from me; I've been driving on the left hand side of the road- from the right side of the car - for only a few weeks now.  And while I do have it down MOST of the time, there is a LOT of construction going on because of flood damage to roads and bridges.  And while I can drive on the left, take a traffic circle to the left and all sorts of other oddities, they DO throw me a curve ball (which is an AMERICAN analogy, deal with it!) whenever they throw in construction and have us switch into the right lane or turn right or do anything out of the normal here that I have been TRYING hard to convince my brain is NOT okay to do anymore.

Andrew's new b'day bike.

I have the construction crews in stitches sometimes.

"Hey love," said one guy as he came over and asked me to roll down my window, '"technically you're still supposed to go AROUND the ENTIRE traffic circle before turning right."  The sign saying , RIGHT TURN ONLY, didn't make that clear to ME but I guess I should have known.  Instead of disdain and condescension though, which I would have gotten in Germany, I just got a "No worries, love" , a friendly smile and a wave through.

At the NEXT stop, another guy asked me to roll down the window and if I knew where I was going.  "Well, no actually," I said.  "It's my first time here.  I'm looking for a soccer field though."

"Big green thing on your left." the guy answered.  But laughing so hard that the kids in the back seat were in stitches as well.

True story.  Road tolerance and comedy instead of road rage.

Teaching my kids about authority figures.

You notice it when you accidentally try to start in third gear and miss the traffic light.  People behind you laughing and waving out the window instead of cursing at you.  Because people here seem to realize that there are worse things than waiting for a traffic light. 

Or when cars stop to let you finish crossing the street with the kids.  Instead of coming as close as they can because YOU WERE TOO SLOW and YOU MISSED YOUR CHANCE.  (Or honking at you because they want your parking space and you are too slow strapping your two kids into their car seats and putting the stroller in the trunk.  Really.  Never happened to me but apparently a common occurrence in Germany.)

Here people make room for you on the sidewalk.  Or thank you for letting THEM cross the street when YOU are in the car, instead of arrogantly walking across without making eye contact.  Because they have their RIGHTS you know.  (People are REALLY big on THEIR RIGHTS in Germany.)

It's not about the rules and the rights - Germans DO have that down - but its about realizing that it all works better when we think about others besides ourselves.  The roads are safer when we all watch out for eachother.  And less stressful too.

Controlled chaos.

I still think of that guy in Ludwigsburg who refused to relinquish his position in the CENTER of the sidewalk as my four kids tried to find ways around him.  What was the point of all that?  That breeders are inferior?  That he had his right to the sidewalk?

Wouldn't his day - and his life - have been better too if he had smiled at the kids, said hello to the parents, and enjoyed the camaraderie of another group of people out enjoying the same sunshine and greenery that he was?

How much better could his life be if he stopped worrying so much about himself and thought about the needs of others?

The Tao states, more eloquently than I, that rules and rights are poor substitions for the True Way. 

Sometimes rules make no sense.

"Joy to the World."  And stop worrying about who has the right of way.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Soccer Mom

You learn things about yourself in a new culture that you wouldn't necessarily notice back in your old one.

The next generation: Matthew, Callum and Aidan

I am the only one who remembers to sign in at the weekly women's group I have been going to recently.  Today they laughed.  "Oh, Christine, how do you remember to do it?"

Remember?  How could you FORGET?  I had to admit that it didn't even occur to me to NOT sign in.  We Germans are a pretty bureaucratic bunch.  You punch in, you follow the rules.

It had never occurred to me that I had become so methodical.

Like the 10 step list I sent to our school principal, Tracy, distinctly outlining the rules for buying lunch bags with your meals at the Tuck Shop.  She condensed it into a nice two lines gently reminding people to include an extra 5 cents with the meal price. 

Aussies are pretty relaxed.  I love it but I'm still coming down off the German rules.

And here I thought I had avoided being sucked in by them all the time I was there!  It's insidous.  I can only hope the Aussie mentality creeps into my subconscious in the same way.

Andrew in goal.  Again.

Andrew began soccer season a few weeks ago too.  I tried telling the coach, a good friend of ours, that I really just wanted him to enjoy the game, learn a few positions outside of goal-keeper, and have a good time with new friends.  Our friend, whose daughter plays goalie for the 12 and unders and who has seen Andrew play, promptly stuck him in goal and asked the scout for the traveling team to take a look at him. 

"I need that kid for goal-keeper" the scout said to my friend, unaware that I was the mother.

Two keepers using their feet!

Did my heart swell with pride?  Of course it did.  On the other hand, I was grieving that he had never had a chance to become a high-scoring forward.  (Watching him play though, where he preferably played defense even in the field, and was actually unintentionally in the goalie's way, subconsciously playing goal even when he wasn't officially in the position, I had to admit that Andrew was a defense guy.)

And even worse, a goalie.

"Sorry about that" said my friend.  "It's alright," I replied.  "As long as Andrew likes playing goal and you think he belongs there.  HE doesn't get stressed playing goal.   I get stressed watching it."

Andrew warms up for goal.

"Don't worry" my friend reassured me "we work with them carefully in practice so that they know how not to get hurt in a game."

Get hurt in a game?  GET HURT IN A GAME?  I had to admit that the thought had never occured to me.  "I'm worried about him letting a ball THROUGH,"  I sheepishly admitted,  "not about him diving after it and getting kicked in the face."

Which I believe was the most competitive thing my friend had ever heard from a soccer mom!

Me?  ME?  I want to save the world, I want everyone to work together, I want us all to live together, peacefully, as members of one great, all-encompassing human-kind.

Now it occurs to me that maybe I just want us all to be equal so that I won't be last.  A 1:1 tie means nobody wins, but it also means that nobody loses!

"Whose that little guy playing keeper?"  I heard this Saturday.  "I don't know, but I heard they found a really excellent kid."  I introduced myself immediately so the parents wouldn't be embarrassed by any remarks made in my presence later.  "Yeah, that's my kid Andrew.  I keep telling everyone he's too short to play goal, but they insist he's alright."  The fact that he finally lost 3 teeth last week - making him look like a 6 year old - didn't help his intimidation factor.   My guess is they look at his dad, and count on a growth spurt in a few years to bring him up to keeper height.

But, after several dives and saves, including one where he raced the offensive player down the goal line and threw himself on the ball as the kid kicked him in the ribs, we all had to admit he belonged in goal.  I got to cheer for the two forwards - one of whom is a girl - and the entire team played well. 

The little guy in goal.  With team support this time around.  (Don't they all look HUGE?!)

It was way more fun than his team in Altdorf who didn't listen, didn't pass, didn't follow positions, and left it a game of Andrew as goalie versus dozens of shots by the opposing team.

He did get a LOT of practice, but it was painful to watch.

Here, the mums and dads pulled up chairs and cheered.  There they resented being there and pulled out a paper.  And Andrew told me later that the kid who (unintentionally) kicked him in the ribs actually helped him up and told him "good save" after apologizing for the kick.  (He WAS going for the ball and Andrew was on top of it!  GO Andrew!  We can fix your teeth later!)

It makes you wonder if that 2:1 Australia win over Germany last week was more than a fluke.  (It DID break my heart; I LOVE my boys!)  The attitude - team spirit, cooperation, working together - in Australia is so much healthier than the competitive, every-man-for-himself attitude fostered in Germany. 

And it makes me question myself yet again.  Do I want Andrew to play for Germany?  Or am I rooting for the Aussies to move up into the final three?  (Let's face it, the USA is just happy to get there at all!)

Still Deutschland and proud. Matthew.

I don't hate Germany.  I love her.  I am so disappointed in her because I do love her.  Do I want 'MY BOYS' to win?   Yeah, I do.  I want Germans to have the same love of life, the same joy of living, the same happiness to think of and help others, that Australians take for granted.  Let the Germans win at soccer, for crying out loud.  The Aussies have everything else.

Forgive me.  I am methodical, pedantic, competitive....and German.  I am so critical of Germany because I AM German, and because I know that if I can change, then so can anyone.  They CAN do better, because I can do better.

Aidan with Deutschland shirt, American baseball hat and South African ball.  In Australia.

All of which I never would have known if I didn't come to Australia!